One experience that should be made compulsory for every Indian is to travel in an Indian Train. None of that fancy Third or Second AC but its humbler, noisier, dirtier cousin- the second class sleeper.
The trouble starts early. Irritated with all the bargaining you have done with him, the porter plants your luggage randomly in the middle of the platform and declares that S6 will stop right here. When the train arrives, you realize that S6 has come half a kilometer away and start rushing to the other end. Unfortunately five hundred other passengers have just realized the same thing .For a few moments the scene resembles a chicken coop when the butcher comes to choose his next victim. Old people with arthritis outrun PT Usha; fat ladies cease to be lazy; normally good natured men become Andrew Symonds. With a determination reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone in Rambo families pull, push and drag their luggage/children across the platform defying all known laws of physics.
By the time you pick yourself up after you were tripped by the trolley and elbowed aside by the fat Punjabi Aunty and finally reach your compartment you find that a family of twelve has squeezed comfortably into seats meant for six. After you search for a place in vain to put your solitary bag under the seat in between four suitcases, three bags and various other paraphernalia that a normal family carries across cities(Heaven knows why) ,you finally give up and decide to be happy if you at least get a place to sit. After examining your ticket they finally allow you five centimeters of seat between the fat aunty and the even fatter -auntie’s mother (And inevitably the farthest from the daughter of the group).
After trying to gently glide your behind into the five centimeters of space without falling off and inappropriate touching ,all the time getting indignant looks of disapproval from a lady old enough to be my grandmother, you decide that it cant get any worse when the kids start playing a game of cricket in that confined space.
After two hits to the eye and one to the ear, with the proud parents lustily cheering every blow I decided to relax with a book on the side upper berth.
The side upper and also one of Lallo’s priceless inventions-the side middle is made keeping the average Indian height in mind. To fit my above average (vertically and horizontally) body into that limited amount necessitates a few foetal body contortions that would make a circus artist proud.
Finally when you feel almost paralyzed by being twisted in the same lying position for so long you almost step on the bald uncle’s hand while getting down and get a rude look from him. What am I supposed to do? Glide down smoothly like Batman or something?
Hunger strikes immediately and I hastily buy some Chapattis and Dal .Not so for the big family which opens containers which contain enough food to feed villages in Africa.
After chewing my own paltry food in disgust and increasing looking more and more like a salivating dog while looking at their food takes some more time.
Soon it is time to sleep. You wont believe how early people go to sleep on a train. Even the most insomniac of Uncles is tucked into his bunk by 8 pm .They also insist in switching off every light in the cubicle. People like me are left looking blankly into the darkness for hours before we fall asleep.
Indian Trains also have their own variations of commandments:
1)When you have middle berth and are dying to sleep the occupants of the lower berth below you will take great pleasure in staying awake for long amounts of time hence keeping you awake too.
2)When you are in lower berth-the person above will fix his middle bunk at the earliest which will leave you with a permanent hunch after trying to sit up in the lower bunk in vain.
3)There shall be at minimum one application from people asking you to exchange your seat with them.
4)If you are sleeping on the top berth you will feel like peeing at least four times minimum.
5)There will be a beautiful girl traveling alone on both cubicles next to yours but none in yours. If she is in your cubicle she will be accompanied by Parent/Husband/Boyfriend.
The night’s sleep is disturbed by the uncle whose snoring is louder than the noise of the train. My large feet stick out at the bottom and kick unsuspecting passers by in the groin/stomach/Head depending on whether I am sleeping in lower/middle/Upper.
Just when you have fallen asleep the tea sellers start shouting at 4 am in the morning (Honestly who drinks tea at 4 am?).
I gently avert my eyes from the fat man sleeping opposite whose shirt has now risen above his belly and try to go to sleep again.
Finally station arrives. Suddenly every one realizes that they will die if they spend one second more than required on the train. Consequently they start lining up near the doorway with copious amounts of luggage one full hour before destination. God forbid if I want to go to the toilet.
The train stops. I get off with feelings similar to a Titanic survivor when he finally touched dry land.I wipe tears of joy and loudly hail my father who has come to pick me up.